Mawaru Penguindrum OP Single – nornir – boys, come back to me – Review

Album Title: nornir – boys, come back to me
Anime Title: Mawaru Penguindrum
Artist: Yakushimaru Etsuko Metro Orchestra
Catalog Number: KICM-3238
Release Type: OP/ED Single
Release Date: October 5, 2011
Purchase at: CDJapan

Track Title Artist Time
1. nornir Yakushimaru Etsuko Metro Orchestra 7:03
2. boys, come back to me Yakushimaru Etsuko Metro Orchestra 6:28
3. nornir (off vocal) Yakushimaru Etsuko Metro Orchestra 7:03
4. boys, come back to me (off vocal) Yakushimaru Etsuko Metro Orchestra 6:24

Review: Spoiler: This review will be largely positive.

I’ll be straightforward; it’s been a long time since I’ve really liked an OP/ED. Not to betray my cynicism, but they’re too often either wily vehicles for seiyuu endorsement with bad English or brainless irony festivals of misdirected rhetoric; it’s the happy, rare occasion when I truly enjoy one without excuses.

I guess this is where “Nornir” and “Boys, Come Back to Me” come in, because, here, there is no middle ground. There are no caveats or compromises. These are just good music. Etsuko Yakushimaru combines her whispery, breathless timbre with a huge, dramatic jazz orchestra sound, and the results are heroic. The tracks have a surreal majesty that seems drawn straight out of a fairy tale, making them openings worthy of the monumental show they introduce.

Etsuko has impressed in the past (ED to Tatami Galaxy, OP to Arakawa), but her scope was narrower and the arrangements in general were less grand. The singles presented in this album bring a much wider sense of scale, and is simply a smashing execution of a rarely-successful mix of sounds. We see Etsuko pulling triple-duty here; she is credited as the vocalist, lyricist, and composer (the latter two under her pseudonym Tica·α). Such involvement is increasingly rare, and thus impressive as a result.

That said, if there is a major criticism against these two songs, it would be that they seem to be cut from the same cloth. It’s never a problem to tell them apart, but there’s still a niggling sense of family resemblance. They’re not necessarily twins, but they’re half-siblings with the same color hair, and it causes the slightest tinge of disappointment. Though I wish the tracks would sound just slightly more distinct, this ultimately does not detract from their overall sterling quality.

Neither of these tracks is done justice by their 90-second TV edits. Both contain extensive, intricately orchestrated sections that did not appear in the animations. The intros give the impression of a typical verse/chorus structure to the songs, and that does them a great disservice. “Boys, Come Back to Me,” in particular, has two marvelously breathtaking instrumental sections in the middle. There’s much more here than the OP edits suggest, and it’s to your own detriment if you decide to judge the songs without experiencing the full versions.

I find that there’s not much to say when my opinion is so plainly positive. Listen to these.

I’ll be keeping my eye on Etsuko.

Rating: Excellent

Mawaru Penguindrum OP1 – nornir

Mawaru Penguindrum OP2 – boys, come back to me

Aftershok

A huge jazz nerd and unabashed fan of alternative rock, I joined Anime Instrumentality in December 2010. I tend to get very passionate when it comes to music and try my best to understand how it works. An enormous fan of The Pillows, among my favorite anime composers include Ko Otani and Yoko Kanno. My tastes in anime vary wildly, but I try to be as thoughtful about my viewing as I am about my listening. I play the saxophone.

10 thoughts on “Mawaru Penguindrum OP Single – nornir – boys, come back to me – Review

  • December 26, 2011 at 9:34 am
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    I was able to listen to these pieces and the off-vocal versions were more appealing to me. So much so that I thought that the off-vocal versions were different compositions to the vocal versions.

    Vocals have to be able to work well with the instrumentation, particularly in a jazz setting and these songs don’t have the arrangement of voice and instruments like, say, Minami Kuribayashi’s “Fantastic Arrow”.

    Reply
    • December 27, 2011 at 8:16 pm
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      I personally have no issue with the vocals. In fact, I think her voice adds a lot of depth to the composition. I see what you’re saying, but this isn’t strictly a “jazz” setting, and vocals should match the instrumentation in any genre, really. What about Etsuko’s singing didn’t you like?

      Reply
      • December 28, 2011 at 8:02 am
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        I had a few more listens and besides wishing I could hear the pieces performed live together, it came down to a personal preference for a vocal style that gives a clearer sense of pitch so that the vocals and instruments combine. (My musical vocabulary is severely lacking).

        Still, they’re interesting pieces.

  • December 26, 2011 at 3:29 pm
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    Absolutely agree with you on this. These tracks are fascinating. I really like the ambition they show in comparison to the OPs to Arakawa. Although I liked those earlier works I think this shows a very positive step in her development as an artist. I hope we get to hear more and more from her.

    As to the similarity. I actually was surprised the first time hearing Boys.. because I didn’t quite realize it was a different song at first. It has a familiarity that clearly makes it of a piece with Nornir. I wouldn’t be too concerned, given how she was probably experimenting with a particular set of ideas at the time. I would be much more concerned if these two songs sounded too much like her previous work, in which case I would assume she had pretty much run out of ideas.

    Reply
    • December 27, 2011 at 8:19 pm
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      I see “boys” as a sequel song of sorts to “nornir”. It’s an extension of the aesthetic of “nornir”, and expands upon it in a number of ways. In the end, they’re great companion tracks, I think, and is a good indication of Etsuko’s growth as a composer.

      Reply
  • December 27, 2011 at 3:30 pm
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    Wow. I have only just heard the full versions for the first time, and the contrast to the TV edits is massive, they seem like different songs (When I started listening to Nornir I didn’t think it was part of the song), in fact I do just see them as a different songs. If I’m honest I prefer the TV edit for Nornir, the full version has parts that I don’t think sound good (4:00-5:00 being the worst part).

    These songs really are impressive though, they have a much bigger scale than the usual song, as Joojoobees said, they have a lot of ambition. I prefer the full version of “Boys, Come Back to Me”, I think everything works very well, which is very impressive for a song that’s long and constantly shifting. I don’t know of any other Anime Songs that have this level of complexity, it really amazes me.

    Reply
    • December 27, 2011 at 8:24 pm
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      That’s interesting, because that section you didn’t like was actually one of my favorite part of the song. It was just another highly varied section that meant Etsuko felt like composing that much more. It was in another time, too, and was interesting to see how the 3/4 time transitioned back into the 4/4 time the rest of the song was in.

      “Ambitious” and “audacious” were words I were throwing around during drafting, yeah, and I personally see “boys, come back to me” as the superior song.

      Reply
      • December 29, 2011 at 10:40 am
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        It’s funny, because I liked the TV edit version of “Nornir” to the TV edit version of “Boys, Come Back to Me” much more, but for the full versions it’s completely the other way around.

  • December 31, 2011 at 2:43 am
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    I love the OP so much. I say this about every OP done by Yakushimaru Etsuko, but yea, she’s probably my favorite J-artist right now.

    Reply
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